The Curious Case of the Steamship on the Mekong

Date
2015
Authors
Tan, Noel Hidalgo
Walker-Vadillo, Veronica
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Publisher
University of Hawai'i Press (Honolulu)
Abstract
Painted and engraved rock art appear at the Pak Ou caves, a complex of caverns containing Buddhist offerings and shrines located at the confluence of two rivers in Luang Prabang Province, Lao PDR. Faded red paintings and writing can be found on the cliff face housing the lower cave, colloquially known as the “Cave of a Thousand Buddhas,” while in the upper cave, red anthropomorphs and flowers along with black anthropomorphic figures are painted on the walls. This red and black rock art may predate the Buddhist use of the cave. However, one painting found in the upper cave 10 m from the entrance is unusual as it utilizes a green pigment, and resembles modern steamships that might have transited the upper Mekong. This article considers the historic context of the cave and significance of this Laotian rock art site, which has received little attention in academic literature thus far. Because boat imagery in rock art is not unheard of in Southeast Asia, we hope to highlight the potential for this art to illuminate episodes from the recent past.
Description
Keywords
Laos, rock art, maritime archaeology, steamship, Pak Ou caves, Luang Prabang
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